Commentary: Racanelli, Giordano claim #BeaconAOTY crowns

There was a time when I started my role as sports editor for The Beacon. I had one major thing that bugged me: the athlete of the week needs to be merit-based.

Why bother calling it an “Athlete of the Week” if it was simply a randomly chosen athlete?

It just didn’t make sense.

When sitting in the “bubble,” the fish bowl-like room in the Karambelas Media and Communication Center last year, the sports staff and I were having trouble deciding between two athletes on who should be named athlete of the week for that particular week.

“Why not put it in a Twitter poll and let it be voted on?” one of our sports staffers said.

Then, it hit me. Let’s do it. From there, it was history.

When the staff and I sat down just over a year ago to plan out the first Beacon Athlete of the Year tournament, it was an exciting time for the Wilkes community. And not just the Wilkes athletic community, the Wilkes community as a whole.

The tournament was even mentioned on Greensboro Sports in North Carolina when they reported Wilkes softball’s Gracen Staunton was in the running last year.

Last year’s tournament got off to a lackluster start in the preliminary round. A measly 50 votes were registered during the tournament’s opening 28 hours.

However, after all was said and done, the entire tournament would register 6,240 votes. Not bad for a first year deal.

When the staff and I sat down to plan this year’s tournament, however, like anything else, we saw room for improvement.

Athletes like Garrett Armstrong (‘18, football) were overlooked in the fact that Armstrong was never named an athlete of the week last year and did not have an opportunity to compete in the tournament as a result.

This year, we took new approach. We took the athletes of the week and continued their entry as automatic bids, but also decided to add at-large qualifiers to the mix as well. This gave athletes who had solid seasons a chance at attaining athlete of the year glory.

Did we envision this year’s vote total eclipsing 20,000? Not a chance. This year’s first round saw nearly 9,000 votes, torching last year’s tournament total of 6,240. We expected growth, but over tripling last year’s total with 20,235 votes was not expected (at least by me).

Last year, we spent about 30 minutes hammering out seeds. This year? With at-large bids and other factors to consider, it took about four hours to make sure everything was right (at least in our minds).

The championship round also saw heightened excitement where 1,690 votes were cast across both polls. Both the men’s and the women’s championship ballots came down to the final hour, as both polls were tied at 50 percent.

Personally, I just wanted to see close races in the championship round, but never did I expect it would come down to the final hour. Folks who were following on Twitter certainly got their money’s worth.

I was concerned, however, that the women’s championship would be a dud being that two teammates (at least partially) were facing off against each other. This would be a mute point as No. 1 Gab Giordano (women’s basketball and softball) and No. 14 Maddie Kelley (women’s basketball and field hockey) put on a show for the fourth highest vote total in tournament history.

Giordano’s storyline is pretty captivating. She transferred from Marywood to Wilkes as a senior and excelled in not only one, but two sports. Yet, being as new as she was to this campus, she proved she belonged to be not only in the conversation of best campus athletes, but the best female athlete (as voted on during seeding by the selection committee).

But what matchup in the past two years holds the number one spot? That would be this year’s final between No. 5 Nick Racanelli (wrestling) and powerhouse Wilkes football’s No. 7 Jeff Steeber.

A late push from Wilkes wrestling pushed senior Racanelli over the top. The men’s championship ballot even saw a retweet from Hall of Fame sports writer Jason Byrant, who focuses on college and international wrestling coverage for over 20 years. He encouraged his 12,000+ Twitter followers to “vote wrestling.” Local coach Scott Green from Wyoming Seminary wrestling and Wilkes alum Ryan Holmes from FloWrestling also got in on the action, trying to get others to support their side.

Was it David versus Goliath big? Probably not, but the tournament did bring Wilkes wrestling to the spotlight after a 20-4 dual season campaign that flew wildly under the radar. Wilkes wrestling had the best team winning percentage of the 23 varsity athletic programs that Wilkes offers (.833). This season also included wrestlers who were ranked nationally throughout the year. One of those wrestlers being none other than Racanelli.

While Racanelli was the only automatic bid to enter the athlete of the year tournament from Wilkes wrestling, we were left with no choice but to bring in teammates junior Tommy Stokes and senior Ashton Gyenizs as at-large bids due to their solid performances as well.

From the selection committee (James Dotter, Kendyl Kalish, Ben Mandell and Kirsten Peters), to tournament assistant Ryan Balliet (who diligently crunched numbers right after polls ended each night) and to all who voted, thank you.